After lunch we boated back to the mainland. Innocent talked a bit about manatees, then took us to meet an older fisherman named Timothe who knows a lot about manatees, turtles and cetaceans. Innocent and Timothe are both from the local Bange tribe and their cultural belief is that manatees are sacred, so they don’t hunt them. When asked why they don’t, Timothe replied that they are a long-lived species and only have 1 “young” every 2 years. Innocent related a story of his uncle, a fisherman who is no longer alive, who caught a manatee in his fishing net by accident 8 years ago and released it. Timothe also related that the same man caught a manatee about 20 years ago near Cocotier, and they tied it up for 2 weeks to look at it because they were curious, and then they released it. Timothe had a wealth of knowledge about manatees, and discussed seasonal use of rivers vs. the bay, mangrove seed pods as a preferred food in the rivers, sightings manatees year round both singly and in mating groups, etc. He also told us that 8-9 months ago there was a pair of manatees hanging around Cocotier Island for 3-4 months, and then they left, but they were not hunted. He said the Nigerians living in fishing villages in nearby Akanda National Park (I visited a couple of these villages last year) regularly kill manatees, but they know they are protected, so they eat them locally rather than trying to sell them illegally. He also spoke about manatees being caught in the Ogooue River and sold in Pt. Gentil (larger city down the coast at the mouth of the Ogooue), which I hear from everyone all over Gabon every time I ask about manatee bushmeat.
Timothe, Lucy and Angela talking about manatees and turtles.
Timothe was absolutely my best interview in Gabon so far and a very positive way to end the day! Many, many thanks to Angela who translated Timothe’s Spanish for me!